Olivia Padilla, an alumna of The University of New Mexico Class of 2018, is finishing a jampacked semester in Washington, D.C., as the first New Mexican to be a Global Leaders Fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI). CHLI gives students hands-on experience in congressional and corporate offices while earning academic credit hours.

Padilla graduated from UNM in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and International Studies with concentrations in Latin America and conflict, peace, and diplomacy, and a minor in Spanish. While an undergraduate, she was a tour guide for the UNM Office of Admissions, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council #8096, Associated Students of UNM Senator, a member of Trailblazers, and Chi Omega sorority. She studied abroad in Mexico and Italy. 

CHLI is a semester-long fellowship that is broken up into three parts: a congressional internship, a corporate internship, and a George Washington University course. 

“During the first half of the semester I interned in the office of Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ-08). I was able to dive into my interest of foreign affairs in Latin America by working on projects pertaining to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, while also learning about a variety of other legislative issues like transportation and infrastructure,” Padilla explained. The second half of the semester she interned with UPS Global Public Affairs.

“I learned about the structure of a corporation, the lobbying process, and worked on international projects that promote women-owned, small and medium sized enterprises in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The George Washington University course I was enrolled in for the semester was on elections and Congress, which directly related to the work I did through my internships.”

The costs of living and working in the nation’s capital can be daunting. Even members of Congress have been known to live in their offices or room with other members. CHLI relieves the financial burden that is often the obstacle many face when presented with the opportunity to intern in DC. As a global Leader Fellow, Padilla received funds for housing, transportation on the Washington Metro, and a monthly stipend for food.

“With CHLI’s financial support, my time in DC has been sustainable and has allowed me to truly focus on my work in Congress and in the corporate office.”

Padilla began her internship with Sires in January, moved on to the UPS Global Public Affairs in March, and took the university course until April. This month she will move on to be the deputy scheduler in Sen. Tom Udall’s office.

“The skills, support, and network that came with CHLI helped me to gain a job that directly impacts my community of New Mexico. CHLI is a unique program in that I gain both a government and corporate perspective, which is extremely valuable and allows me to see multiple aspects of working in politics and in D.C. This is not an experience many people are given and I feel truly fortunate for it,” Padilla said. “Everyone who is a part of CHLI is genuinely interested in my well-being and wants to help be achieve success. I did not become a member of an inaccessible organization, but a close-knit family.”

Padilla urges interested students to apply for the CHLI internship.

“Don’t hesitate. Apply today. Opportunity is at your fingertips. Home will always be there, and now is the right time to explore new places and gain essential skills and experiences that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. CHLI will open many doors and help you build a network of people who will mentor and support you.”

Although Albuquerque native Padilla is enjoying her time in Washington, she said “I am a proud Lobo and Burqueña and carry New Mexico pride wherever I go.”